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Retired law enforcement, youth mentors analyze crime trends among Memphis youth

Social media, gang initiation and video games are being pointed as factors behind young people committing gun offenses.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The 15-year-old accused this week in the Whitehaven carjacking and shooting death of Rev. Dr. Autura Eason-Williams highlights a larger issue which continues to challenge the Bluff City: a staggering rise in young people charged with serious violent offenses.   

Retired and active law enforcement said young people causing mischief is nothing new but what is different these days is the severity of what some juveniles are doing and the consequences of those actions in the juvenile justice system.

"The decisions you made today will greatly affect your tomorrow," Josh Woolbright with the 901 Bloc Squad said.

Woolbright knows that firsthand. He spent most of his young adult life in prison and now mentors Memphis youth to lead a different path.

"I did my time, 15 years, now I'm putting my knowledge and wisdom on these kids, my perspective, that, hey, it's not worth it," Woolbright added.

He and other mentors are combating Memphis youth crime challenges facing the community like no other time before.

Juvenile gun arrests surged 15% between last June and last month and the Shelby County Juvenile Court recently set a a new high of juveniles charged with either murder or attempted murder.

"Right now school's out, it's hot outside, they want money, they don't have a job, they go out, rob, steal, we are trying to prevent that," Woolbright said. 

"They're young, they don't realize the severity of what they are doing," retired Shelby County Capt. Bennie Cobb said.

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Cobb said social media challenges are playing a major role in tempting teenagers and daring illegal challenges.

"They kids are really, really impressionable and the social media plays a big part in what they see, what they do and how they react," Cobb added.

The retired law enforcement said gang initiation or gang promotion is also playing a role in recent car break-ins and carjackings involving young people.

"Young people if they are in the gang they are trying to move up in status and not only move up in the status but it's economic thing, they make some money off stolen cars," Cobb said.

That's why it's on parents to step up and stem the tide.

"Even the best trained kid will act up amongst their peers when they get out and you can never say what my kid won't do, what my grandkid won't do, the best you can do is train them as best as you can do and hope for the best," Cobb said.

That retired captain said the burden is on adult gun owners to make sure they keep their weapons stored properly in homes and cars and out of the hands of those who can't carry legally: young people.

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